Saturday, December 16, 2017

A child is born 16: The birth of Samson

Now be careful not to drink wine or strong drink, or to eat anything unclean, for you shall conceive and bear a son. No razor is to come on his head, for the boy shall be a nazirite to God from birth . It is he who shall begin to deliver Israel from the hand of the Philistines. (13.4-5)

The story of the birth of Samson is another story of a childless couple who eventually have a special baby, but in this case, there is no manoeuvring or manipulating. Manoah’s wife, who isn’t named, is visited by an angel and told she will conceive. Her husband doesn’t seem to believe her, but the when the angel appears to him too his is finally convinced. If that reminds us of the stories of the births of John the Baptist and Jesus, that's not surprising.. The writers of their birth stories appear to have modelled them on stories like these.

Manoah and his wife are told that their child is to be a “nazirite”, someone set apart for a special purpose. The first verse of the passage sets the scene; Israel is under attack by the Philistines, a warlike tribe which threatens their existence. Samson will be given extraordinary strength to lead the fight against them. You can read the rest of his story in Judges 14-16.

Eventually Samson would be captured by the Philistines, having given away the secret of his strength to Delilah. He had started to assume that it was his gift to do what he wanted with, rather than the the gift of God, given for the service of his people. Ultimately, though, as a prisoner, "eyeless in Gaza" his strength returns, and he destroys his captors, their temple, and himself. It is a brutal end which may shock us now - maybe it seems too much  like the actions of a modern day suicide bomber. At the time it was written though, it would have been seen at the time as an inspiring sign of his devotion to God.

The people of the Bible had only the vaguest idea of how babies were conceived, and they viewed every baby as a gift of God, a miracle. The conception of children like Samson was simply a bit more miraculous than most – a sign that they were set aside for some special purpose.

·         Are there any stories in your family of “miraculous” births, babies whose conception or birth defied the odds?

·         What do you think the effects of knowing you are a “miracle” baby might be on the child as it grows up?

·         Some children’s lives seem set on a particular course from an early stage, for good or ill. They may have a particular talent and feel duty bound to develop it, or they may have been told that they “will never amount to anything” and feel that their future can never hold out any hope. Pray that all children might be free to find God’s purpose for their lives.

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